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Being Pa'alagi - A Tribute To Michael King

Being Pa'alagi - A Tribute To Michael King

By Anthony Haas
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I mourn for Michael King for many reasons. Our friendship grew as flatmates, undergraduates and journalists in the nineteen sixties at Victoria University.

We all have cause to mourn him because he asked, "whether, having achieved a degree of bi-culturalism, the next logical revision of the New Zealand social contract ought to be in favour of multi-culturalism?"

He encouraged me to develop the Being Pa'alagi programme, which he introduced two years ago with this question: "If this next step is deemed worthy of taking, the group on whom the focus of attention should fix first is New Zealand Pacific Islanders."

Michael wrote in his introduction to the Being Pa'alagi programme that the ultimate objective of the adjustments by which New Zealand went well down the road towards becoming a bi-cultural society, "was an attempt to ensure that Maori New Zealanders participated as fully in the national life -- sharing its resources to the same extent, influencing the character of national culture -- as their Pakeha compatriots."

"With this objective largely achieved, the time is now ripe to cast a wider view over the country's cultural contours to determine whether or not there are other New Zealanders who are less than fully involved in the national life, and whether or not members of the Pakeha majority culture and the tangata whenua culture ought to make further adjustments to accommodate those who are neither Pakeha nor Maori", he said.

"Are 'old New Zealanders', Pakeha and Maori, adequately prepared for this interaction? And are New Zealand's Pacific Island citizens getting the full potential benefits of participation in the country's national life? If the answers to both these questions is negative, then what adjustments do both sets of peoples need to make in order to ensure that the effects of the relationship are positive and fruitful for all concerned?"

He said that, "This group of questions is almost identical to those I posed in relation to Maori and Pakeha interaction in the early 1980s. At that time I wrote a book called Being Pakeha, which had several objectives. One was to shed light on the nature of the Maori-Pakeha relations through history. A second was to spark debate about the nature of an evolving Pakeha culture and society. And a third was to communicate what changes had occurred in my own life and view of the world as the result of personal encounters with Maori -- because I believed that all Pakeha New Zealanders would eventually be faced by a set of cultural circumstances in which I had become involved in the 1960s and 1970s."

He said that my Being Pa'alagi programme, "arises from a very similar set of circumstances, personal and social. Just as I, as a Pakeha person, had intimate contact with the Maori world over two decades, Anthony Haas has had even more intimate contact with the ethos of Pacific Islands' cultures. Like me he learned things he didn't previously know, or didn't know he knew, and he has made adjustments accordingly in his own personal and family life. Like me too, the nature of those experiences is relevant to encounters, which New Zealand as a whole is having, or will have, with Pacific peoples who choose to live here."

As I re-read his introduction, after the unbelievable news of his and his wife Maria's death in a car accident, I noted what he said about living on the margins. "I wrote my book out of the experience of being an Irish-Catholic New Zealander who sometimes felt, as often Maori had done, that I was living on the social and cultural margins of my country."

In Michael's memory we must redouble our efforts to help draw people from the margins, and to revise our social contract to reflect its multi ethnic reality.

And as we farewell him know that he also wrote: "I also recognised things about my culture of origin that were perhaps more in harmony with Maori culture than with Pakeha -- a love of music, an emphasis on family, a focus on rituals of death that allowed expression of a full range of human emotions."


Anthony Haas (Mobile 027 242 2301, email: is publisher, Asia Pacific Economic News Ltd and Director, Centre for Citizenship Education. He was a Stout Research Fellow at Victoria University last year, undertaking oral archives in the Being Pa'alagi programme introduced by Michael King.

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